Graduation DayJoelle Charbonneau
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
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About the Author
Copyright © 2014 by Joelle Charbonneau
All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:
Graduation day / Joelle Charbonneau.
p. cm.—(The testing ; book 3)
Summary: “The United Commonwealth wants to eliminate the rebel alliance fighting to destroy The Testing for good. Cia is ready to lead the charge, but will her lethal classmates follow her into battle?” —Provided by publisher.
[1. Adventure and adventurers—Fiction. 2. Loyalty—Fiction. 3. Government, Resistance to—Fiction. 4. Survival—Fiction. 5. Love—Fiction.] I. Title.
To Margaret Raymo, for your guidance and vision.
I could never have done this without you.
A KNOCK MAKES me jump. My hands shake from exhaustion, fear, and sorrow as I unlatch the lock to the door of my residence hall rooms and turn the handle. I let out a sigh of relief as I see Raffe Jeffries in the doorway. Though we share the same path of study, there is little else that is similar about us. Me from the colonies, who had to survive The Testing to be here. He from Tosu City, where students related to former graduates are welcomed into the University with open arms. We are not friends. Even after he helped save my life last night, I do not know if I can trust him. But I have no choice.
Raffe appears unconcerned, but I can read the warning in his eyes as he steps into my sitting room and closes the door behind him. “Cia, they know.”
My knees weaken, and I grip the back of a chair for support. “Know what?”
That I left campus? That I know the rebellion led by the man who helped me during The Testing isn’t what the rebels believe? That soon the rebels will launch an attack that will lead them to their deaths? That Damone . . . I push my thoughts away from that question.
“Professor Holt knows we both left campus.” His dark eyes meet mine. “And Griffin has started looking for Damone.”
Of course Griffin would be looking for his friend. When he doesn’t find him, he will alert the head of our residence, Professor Holt. She will wonder why the Tosu City Government Studies student has vanished. Will Dr. Barnes and his officials believe the pressure to succeed has caused Damone to flee? Or will they launch a search for him and discover that he’s dead? Panic begins to swell. I tell myself there wasn’t another option. But was there?
I shake my head. Unless I want my future to contain Redirection or worse, I have to avoid thinking about what is past.
There are no rules that say we cannot leave campus. I cannot be punished for that alone. But if they know what I have seen . . .
I take a steadying breath, then ask, “Does Professor Holt know when we left or if we left together?”
My fingers trace the lightning bolt symbol on the silver and gold bracelet encircling my wrist as I think of the tracking device contained inside. The one I thought I had beaten. Only, I was wrong. I was wrong about everything. Now Michal is dead and . . .
“I don’t think anyone knows how long we were gone. No one saw us leave, and I don’t think anyone spotted us when we returned to campus.” Raffe runs a hand through his dark hair. “But Griffin stopped me when I was going to deliver your message to Tomas. He asked if I had seen Damone. Then he wanted to know where you and I went this morning. I don’t know how, but he knew we were together.”
I have not told Raffe about the tracking device in his bracelet. Part of me had hoped I would not need to share my secrets. My father warned me before I came to Tosu City for The Testing to trust no one. But I have. I must again now. Because he’s helped me, Raffe is in danger.
Quickly, I tell Raffe about what’s hidden inside the bracelets and about the transmitter Tomas and I designed to block the signal and hide our movements from Dr. Barnes. Only, sometime last night or this morning, that transmitter fell out of my pocket. Where and when it was lost I do not know.
Raffe looks down at the symbol etched on his bracelet—a coiled spring in the center of the balanced scales of justice. “They’re monitoring our movements.” There is no surprise. No outrage. Only a nod of the head before he says, “We’re going to have to find a better way to block the signal if we don’t want them watching our every move when we do whatever you have planned next.”
What I have planned . . .
This week President Collindar will stand in the United Commonwealth Government’s Debate Chamber and ask the members to vote on a new proposal. One that—if approved—will shift administration of The Testing and the University from Dr. Barnes’s autonomous control. One that will force him to report to the president and allow her to end the practices that have killed so many who wanted nothing more than to help their colonies and their country. But while I’d like to believe the proposal will pass and The Testing will come to an end, everything I have learned tells me it is doomed to fail. When it does, rumor says Dr. Barnes’s supporters will call for a vote of confidence on the president. A vote that—if lost by the president—will signal not only the end of her role as leader, but the start of a battle that the rebels and the president have no hope of winning, since Dr. Barnes knows of their plans. Indeed, he and his supporter Symon Dean have planned the rebellion itself. Only recently have I learned its true purpose, which is to identify, occupy, and ultimately destroy any who would oppose the selection methods of The Testing. The time is fast approaching when Dr. Barnes will allow his people among the rebels to escalate their outrage and encourage open warfare, in order to crush that rebellion with violence of his own. If Dr. Barnes’s plan succeeds, those who seek to end The Testing will die—and my brother will be among them.
I can’t sit back and allow that to happen, but I don’t know how I can help stop the events that are already spinning into motion. I thought I knew. I thought I had found a way to help. But I only made things worse. Now Dr. Barnes will be watching my movements even more closely than before. I wish there were time to think things through. My brothers always teased that it took me hours to make a decision that took others minutes, yet my father taught me that anything important deserves thoughtful study. The choices that face me now are the most important of my life.
Am I scared? Yes. As the youngest student at the University, I find it hard to believe that my actions could change the course of my country’s history. That I am clever enough to outthink Dr. Barnes and his officials and save lives. But there is no other way. The odds favor my failure, but I still have to try.
“Right now the only thing I have planned is to do my homework and get some sleep.” When Raf
fe starts to protest, I say, “You need sleep, too.” The way his shoulders sag tells me he is just as tired as I. “Maybe if we’re rested we’ll come up with a way to help stop what’s coming.”
Raffe nods. “Regardless, with everything that’s happened, it’s probably best we stay inside the residence for the rest of the day. I’m sure Professor Holt will have someone watching you. You’ll need to be careful.”
A muffled series of clicks catches my attention. There it is again. One. Two. Three faint clicks of the transmission button on the Transit Communicator. The signal Zeen suggested we use to indicate one of us needs to talk. He must have found a place where it is safe for him to speak. But it is not safe for me. Not with Raffe here. I have been forced into trusting him with many things, but I will not trust him with this. Not with my brother’s life.
“I’ll see you later today,” I say.
Raffe cocks his head to the side. His eyes narrow as the three clicks come again.
Pretending I hear nothing, I walk to the door and open it. “I have an assignment I have to get to work on.”
Raffe looks around the small sitting room. My heart beats off the seconds as he waits for the clicking noise to recur. When it doesn’t, he shakes his head and walks to the door. “I’ll be around if you need anything.”
When the door swings shut, I flip the lock and hurry to my bedroom. My fingers slide under the edge of the mattress and close around the device I brought with me from Five Lakes Colony. It was designed to communicate across distances of less than twenty miles with a device my father kept in his office. The one Zeen must hold now while waiting for me to respond.
I click the communication button three times to indicate I have received his signal.
“Cia. I can’t tell you how glad I am Michal finally told you where I am. I wanted to contact you the minute I got to Tosu City, but Michal said it would be best to wait. Are you okay?”
The sound of Zeen’s voice fills me with warmth. Growing up, I could always tell Zeen anything. Of all my brothers, he was the one I went to when I needed help with a problem. I was certain he could come up with the answer for everything. I hope that is still true.
“I’m fine.” For now. “But—”
“Good.” I hear Zeen sigh. “That’s good. Cia, I’m sorry I was so angry. I shouldn’t have let you leave without saying goodbye. I was jealous because you got what I thought I wanted. I didn’t know . . .”
I think about the hurt I felt when Zeen disappeared before I left for The Testing. Of all of us, he is the most passionate. The easiest to upset. The quickest to react when his emotions are stirred and hardest hit when those he loves are wounded or taken away. Which is why I understood his absence when my family said their farewells and why I can honestly say, “It’s okay. Besides, if you hadn’t stormed off, I would have asked permission to take this Communicator and you would have turned me down. I wouldn’t have made it through the last couple of months without it.”
“You should have heard me yell when I saw your note.” Zeen laughs. “Mom said it was a small price to pay for how I’d behaved, since I might never see you again. She didn’t want me to come, but Dad understood why I had to. Cia, there are things happening here. Important things. I don’t know if Michal told you, but these people are going to end The Testing. The leaders here have a plan that will change everything. It’s dangerous.”
“Zeen . . .”
But Zeen isn’t listening. When I was little, Zeen used to talk to me for hours about things I didn’t understand, but I didn’t care. I loved listening to his voice and knowing that he understood the things he talked about. But he doesn’t understand now.
“Zeen . . .”
“And it’s complicated and will take too long for me to explain. I can’t talk for much longer or someone will come searching for me. With everything going on, they’re slow to trust. Even with Michal’s endorsement. I think they would have arrested me the minute I walked into camp if it weren’t for—”
“Zeen, stop!” When there is silence, I say, “Michal’s dead.” My throat tightens. Tears prick the backs of my eyes. Saying the words aloud makes them all too real. “I saw him die.”
“Cia, that can’t be true.” But the hitch in Zeen’s voice tells me he is shaken by my words. “I would have heard if Michal died. Symon or Ranetta would have told us.” Zeen’s soothing tone is the same one he used when I was small and thought there were monsters lurking under the bed. Only there is no soothing me with kind words now. I know these monsters are real.
“Symon wouldn’t have told you because he’s the one who killed Michal.” I look at the clock beside my bed. Five minutes have passed. If Zeen is right, people will soon come searching for him. I don’t want them to hear him talking into the Communicator and think he’s a spy. There is so much to say. So little time to say it in. I have to decide what is important now and what can wait until we can arrange another time to speak.
“Michal brought Symon the proof the president needs to sway the Debate Chamber vote and end The Testing in a peaceful way. I was hiding nearby.” I can still see the way the rebellion leader looked when he raised his gun and fired. Two shots. Then Michal fell to the ground. “I heard Symon say that he and Dr. Barnes created the rebellion to control those who want to bring an end to The Testing. The rebellion isn’t real.”
“The rebellion is real, Cia.” Though Zeen keeps his voice quiet, I can hear the anger, outrage, and disbelief bubbling below the surface. “Don’t you think I’d know if it wasn’t? These people are ready to fight in order to bring change.”
“I know they are. That’s what Dr. Barnes and Symon want them to do.”
“Cia, that can’t be true. I talked to Ranetta and Symon. Symon—”
“Killed Michal. You can’t trust Symon.” I’m not sure about Ranetta. “Michal did, and he’s dead.” Once again panic simmers inside me. Zeen has to believe. “Symon’s job is to make sure that the rebels fail. If the president loses the Debate Chamber vote and the rebels attack, Dr. Barnes and Symon will have Safety and Security teams waiting. They’ll say it is the only way to keep the rest of the city safe. If we don’t do something, the rebellion will fail. More people will die.”
“Wait. If you’re right . . .” Zeen takes a deep breath. When he speaks again, his voice is barely a whisper, but filled with conviction. “You have to get out of Tosu City.”
“I can’t. There are reasons.” The bracelet on my wrist. My friends who would be left behind. Zeen, who is in the middle of the rebels Dr. Barnes intends to kill. The last is the only thing I know how to fix. “Zeen, you should go. There are lots of buildings that aren’t used very often here on campus. You could hide in one of them.”
“No one is supposed to leave camp without a direct order from Symon or Ranetta.”
Ranetta. A woman I have never met or seen. When Michal explained the divide in the rebellion—one faction that pushed for a peaceful resolution and the other that, impatient with the delays, urged war—he said Ranetta was the leader of the latter. She must have once followed Symon’s methods as all the rebels did. If she opposes them now, could she be an ally? If Zeen could talk to her . . .
No. While Zeen is smart, when his emotions are engaged he often reacts before thinking things through. He hasn’t been part of the rebellion long enough to understand the dynamics and effectively gauge who can be trusted. Who knows if anyone can be? Michal thought Symon could be trusted. So did I. Besides, Zeen didn’t go through The Testing. He doesn’t understand what it is like or how terrible it truly is. This isn’t his fight. He needs to get out.
“You could escape without them seeing you.” The camp the rebels are using was an air force base before being hit by a vector tornado. The destruction was so great that the Commonwealth Government abandoned any hope of revitalizing the area. But while the land is not healthy, trees have grown. Some plants have thrived. If anyone can navigate the unrevitalized landscape and hide from those who pursue him, it wil
l be my brother.
“Maybe. And I might have to if things go the way you say. But not yet. I’m here. I might be able to learn something useful. People expect the new guy to ask questions. I just have to figure out what kinds of answers we need. If there’s a chance . . .”
I wait for Zeen to continue, but there is only silence. My heart pounds as I look at the Communicator in my hand. Zeen must have heard someone approaching. Did he stop talking in time or was he overheard? I wait for Zeen to give me a sign. Something to tell me that he is safe.
The minutes pass slowly. One. Five. Ten. The clock taunts me. My worry grows with each passing moment. Silently, I clutch the device in my hands and will my brother to be okay. My bringing Michal those recordings prompted his death. I can’t lose Zeen, too. If I do, it will be one more person who died because of my actions. Part of me wants to go find Tomas. He was with me last night when I first spotted Zeen in the rebel camp. He’ll want to help. But as much as I want to wrap my arms around Tomas and rely on him, I know there is little he can do. That either of us can. As University students, we have almost no control of the world around us.
But there is someone who should be able to help me. Michal might not have been certain we could trust her, but I don’t see a choice. Not anymore. Zeen is in the middle of a rebellion that is ready to take up arms against Dr. Barnes and his supporters. The Testing will soon select the next round of candidates. More than a hundred students could once again be pushed into decisions that could end lives, whether their own or others’. And if my role in Damone’s death is discovered, I will no longer be able to take any action at all. I will be dead. The fate of too many people is at stake for me to believe I can fix what is broken. I am not one of the country’s leaders. The president is. This is her job. Not mine.
I have to convince her to help.
I pull on a pair of brown pants I acquired after arriving in Tosu City and a fitted yellow tunic adorned with silver buttons. I clean my comfortable but worn boots to make them as presentable as I can. Most days I pull my hair into a tight knot at the nape of my neck. Today, I take special care to brush it until it shines before braiding it in a style that my father lamented made me look like a young woman instead of his little girl. I hope he was right. In order for my plan to succeed, I need the president to see me as more than a University student. She has to see a woman.